EVERETT – When the season began, it seemed the Snohomish High School baseball team had a bright future.
With just two seniors on the roster and a bunch of underclassmen expected to play key roles, the Panthers figured to be decent in 2007 and downright dangerous in 2008.
But as it turns out, the future is now.
A youthful Snohomish club continues to play like a group that’s been there, done that. The Panthers took two more huge steps in their remarkable trek, beating Kentwood and Redmond Saturday at Everett Memorial Stadium to advance to the Final Four of the Class 4A state tournament.
Snohomish (21-4) ousted Kentwood 6-1 in the Region 1 semifinal and later defeated Redmond 6-2 to earn a coveted trip to Safeco Field next weekend for the state semifinals.
“It feels great. I’ve never had this feeling before,” said Snohomish catcher Tom Chandler, a junior who played solid defense all day and had two hits against Redmond.
“Even though we haven’t won (the state title) yet, this is definitely a highlight of my life,” added Chandler, one of many Panthers who sported Mohawk haircuts to promote team unity.
This is Snohomish’s deepest tourney run since it won it all in 1998. Last year the Panthers went one-and-out at state. They will play the winner of Saturday’s Tahoma vs. Stadium contest 4 p.m. Friday in a semifinal at Safeco Field in Seattle.
Snohomish scored a combined total of six runs in the third and fourth innings against Redmond (19-8), which drilled North Kitsap 16-2 earlier Saturday to advance to the regional final. Snohomish, the Wesco North co-champion and District 1 champ, scored four runs in the third. The big hit was Derek Jones’ two-run double.
Starting pitcher Nick Hammons threw six solid innings for Snohomish. Hammons, the team’s only senior starter, earned his sixth victory of the season.
“No question about it. It’s awesome,” said Hammons, who held Redmond scoreless through four innings and allowed just three hits during the stretch. “(That was) the biggest game of my life. Senior year – we’re going to Safeco, the most beautiful park in the United States.”
Hammons, who had two strikeouts and allowed seven hits, got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth after giving up three straight hits to Redmond. “I was getting a little tired. I didn’t have my best stuff today,” he said. “But when I get in a jam like that, I just go back to my fundamentals and try to throw strikes.”
The strategy worked nicely. He used a strikeout, a popout and a groundout to escape after allowing only one run.
“He’s just the kind of guy that doesn’t let pressure get to him,” said Chandler, who aided Hammons by making a nice sliding catch in foul territory in the second inning.
Earlier in the day, Snohomish got a solid pitching performance from Jones and used a balanced hitting attack to eliminate Kentwood.
Snohomish was in control the whole way but things got interesting in the top of the seventh when Kentwood singled three straight times to load the bases. Aaron West relieved Jones, who allowed just two hits between the second and sixth innings. Facing an imposing based-loaded challenge, West retired three consecutive hitters (strikeout, flyout and groundout) without allowing a run to end the game.
“Thank goodness we have Aaron West, who is a very exciting pitcher,” Snohomish coach Kim Hammons said. “He’s done a great job in relief all year for us.”
West, whose first home run of the season energized Snohomish in the second inning, said the relief appearance was easily the most intense one he’s faced.
“It was nerve-racking,” said West, who also got the last three outs against Redmond. “But you’ve just got to go in there and throw strikes.”
Said coach Hammons, “He shut the door.”
Several Panthers made key offensive contributions against Kentwood, including Travis CuyKendall (3-for-4, two runs scored), Jones (2-for-2, one RBI, two runs scored), Hammons (2-for-4, one RBI) and Brian Wolfe (3-for-4, two RBI).
The difference for Snohomish, Kentwood coach Jon Aarstad said, was the Panthers’ excellent defense and balanced lineup.
“Give them credit. They’re a very fundamentally sound team,” Aarstad said.
Snohomish, which has won six straight games, is ranked No. 5 in the Washington State Baseball Poll.
At Everett Memorial Stadium
Shewey, Mitchell (5) and Werkau. Hammons, West (7) and Chandler. WP-Hammons (6-1). LP-Shewey (3-1). 2B-Chandler (S), Jones (S), Wolfe (S), Werkau (R) 2, Sturdivant (R). Records-Redmond 19-8 overall. Snohomish 21-4.
At Everett Memorial Stadium
Johnson, Hiles (6) and Meisenheimer. Jones, West (7) and Chandler. WP-Jones (8-1). LP-Johnson (3-4). 2B-CuyKendall (S) Jones (S), Standlee (K), Hiles (K). HR-West (S). Records-Kentwood 13-8 overall.